"Start the New Year Right: Never Give Up Your Dream!" with Teri Martini

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Moderator is Kristi Holl, web editor of this site and author of 24 books for children and teens, plus l50+ articles for adults and children.

Teri is Teri Martin, author of 31 books, including 13 for children and young adults.

Interviews in the Professional Connection room are held on Thursday nights: 9-11 p.m. Atlantic/Canada, 8-10 p.m. Eastern, 7-9 Central, 6-8 Mountain, and 5-7 Pacific

Names color coded in blue are viewers who asked questions.

Moderator: Good evening, everyone! I'm your moderator and web editor, Kristi Holl, and tonight we're here with author Teri Marini, who has published 31 books. Over the years Teri has had her share of career ups and downs, and is willing to share her tips on how to "Start the New Year Right: Never Give Up Your Dream!" Welcome, Teri!

Teri: Hello, everyone!

Moderator: First, Teri, what kinds of things have you published?

Teri: I have published in just about every area, both fiction and nonfiction, from picture books to adult romances and mysteries as well as magazine articles and stories.

Moderator: New writers generally write on speculation. How can we motivate ourselves to complete projects submitted "on spec" before we have contracts for projects with a specific deadline?

Teri: You must write consistently. The secret to writing constantly and successfully is to have a serious writing schedule that is part of your life. You make the schedule one that you know you can follow, short of earthquake or unexpected illness. I write early in the morning before anyone else is up. I write every day during that time even if I don't think I have a good idea.

Moderator: Sometimes our brains seem to run dry. How do you come up with ideas in order to keep writing month after month, year after year?

Teri: I'm a people watcher. My friend and family call it staring and eavesdropping. But that's the way I collect characters and ideas.

Moderator: Teri, I know you experienced some early success with your writing, yet you mentioned once that it actually caused discouraging problems later. How so? And what did you do about it?

Teri: I was very lucky to sell my first book to the first publisher I selected. But I had been studying the market and I knew what this publisher wanted. For my second book I happened upon a review in the NY Times for a new publisher, True Books, for primary grades. I came up with an idea for them because I was teaching third grade. I sold that one too. I was pretty pleased with myself. But after that I ran into trouble and didn't sell anything for a long time. I knew I needed help, so I took two writing courses. One of the instructors was the writer/teacher who changed my writing life. She taught me to be disciplined and make that writing schedule. It really worked. I sold several magazine stories and articles while in her class, and then I started a book which sold first time out, a mystery.

Moderator: Do you only have to face discouragement when starting out as a writer? If viewers can get past the initial beginning stage and get published, is that the worst of it?

Teri: No way! You can face discouragement at any time. Times change; requirements from publishers change. After writing a number of children's books for the market I decided to move on to adult novels. The first one I sent out was turned down twice before it sold. But I made a good friend of the editor at Popular Library. We worked well together making changes in the Gothic Novel I submitted, and it sold well. This same editor offered me a chance to write what she called a "big romance novel" and offered me an advance that was twice what I earned as a grade school teacher. I took it and gave up teaching. The novel I wrote, TO LOVE AND BEYOND, pleased my editor, but then when I got an agent to handle my contract, she read the manuscript and said: "These characters bore me. Start over." I was never so disappointed before, but I remembered what my writing instructor would have said and checked with her. She too decided I should start over and I did. So discouraging writing news can come at any time in your career.

wendymh: How long does it take you to finish an adult novel?

Teri: Usually it takes about a year once I get started. First I might need to do research too.

Granny J: What made you decide to get an agent?

Teri: The fact that there were foreign sales and other kinds of options to deal with. My books were eventually translated into other languages like Italian, German and Norwegian, but publishers negotiate for rights. I know nothing about that and wanted an agent to handle this.

wendymh: Please tell us more about your writing schedule and how it helped you to be disciplined as a writer.

Teri: I wrote three hours every morning starting at about 6 AM. And I pushed myself to work, whether I was tired or not. Some days I wrote very well and was pleased. Other days I did not do well at all. I threw the pages away. But I forced myself to write every single day, five or six days a week. It worked.

wendymh: Why do you throw away your writing on bad days? Aren't you afraid that there is something good in there somewhere for a different story?

Teri: I never found that to be true, I guess, Wendy. If the characters don't seem real to me I have to start that section over. I don't think I ever do more than eight to ten pages during those three hours. I usually know what I have done and need. Anyway, I hope I do.

Moderator: Many writers do fine until the rejection slips start coming. Then discouragement sets in. How often should a writer expect to be rejected?

Teri: Yes, rejection slips can be discouraging. Fight it. I found you should expect rejection, so I had a plan. I always had a list of markets I could try. Once I sent a story around thirteen times before I sold it. You don't want to dwell on the manuscript that you just sent out. Start another and be ready to sent the first one out again.

Moderator: Some writers--some very famous ones--get almost suicidal after being rejected, often to the point of not being able to write again. How can you prevent this depth of discouragement?

Teri: Yes, many famous writers are plagued by these feelings. Agatha Christie was famous for going into a great decline after the publication of a book, sure that she would never have a good idea again. The truth is that you have to be ready with something new, characters, new incidents, new ideas so that this does not happen to you. I like to read books by successful writers and keep on thinking "what ifs" to get new ideas.

Moderator: They always say that rejection isn't personal. It really FEELS personal, so what does that mean?

Teri: Oh, I do think you have to think of rejection as happening for mixed reasons. The editor might well have thought the story or article was NOT good enough. You missed the mark, but more often you simply didn't give the editor what they needed and wanted. You have to study the market. Study a magazine to which you want to send a manuscript. When I wrote my first adult novel, I read five novels that had been published by Popular Library before I started to write.

Moderator: Is there a time in our careers when we can expect to stop getting rejected? If not, why not?

Teri: I don't think so. Times change. Editors change. There are so many reasons why you might be rejected. Recently I received a rejection for an article because the editor had just bought another one on the same subject. It's part of the profession. No, I don't think you can ever expect not to receive rejections unless you are as popular as Stephen King, for instance.

GjolboeCreations Prior to your first published effort, were you ever intimidated by anticipated rejections, and if so, how did you overcome this fear?

Teri: No, I think I was very naive. I simply thought I would succeed.

wendymh: What are your rules during your writing time to make sure you keep on track? Do you only work on one writing project until it's completed?

Teri: Oh yes, Wendy. I work on one project at a time. I never allow myself to be interrupted during that time. I turn off the phone. Practically everyone I know realizes that I am writing and cannot be disturbed.

GjolboeCreations: Do you work from home, and if so, how do you manage to divorce yourself from household "duties" which seem to relentlessly beckon?

Teri: Yes, I work from home. I arrange everything between 6 AM and 9 AM to be taken care of so that I am not interrupted. Most people probably can't set aside that much time, but many writers I know do the same thing.

Moderator: With recent world events, have you had trouble focusing on your writing? If so, how have you dealt with that?

Teri: Yes, of course. For several hours after the attack on the World Trade Center I thought my nephew was on the scene, and I didn't know where he was. It was difficult to concentrate even after I knew he was all right. And for about two weeks I did nothing but watch the TV, as I'm sure so many other people did. But then I began to think about what the President said about getting back to our normal lives, and I followed his advice.

Moderator: The current state of publishing is discouraging, with the anthrax issues to deal with. Have there been other publishing problems in the past where authors were as discouraged by the times?

Teri: Right you are. But other things in publishing are changing. All is not lost. You can approach publishers via the Net, get guidelines, write queries and even submit manuscripts via the Net. Writers and publishers find ways of carrying on, and I think they always will. Think "this too will pass" and never give up. The publishers won't. They're in business to succeed. They need writers.

Moderator: At any times in your life have you struggled to find time/energy to write as a result of family responsibilities, health problems, or other obstacles?

Teri: Yes, many times. One time in particular is special to me. My dad became ill with cancer, and I was the only one around to care for him. He was a strong man and he got around, though ill for six years, and in that time I could not keep up my writing schedule. I let it slide. But my dad was alert always. He noticed I wasn't writing, and he took over. One day when I got to he home, he ushered me into his study and showed me material he had collected on spies throughout history and told me he longed to have me write a book on the subject. I couldn't disappoint him and developed a book for young people called THE SECRET IS OUT. He even helped edit it. The project helped us both, and slowly I got back to writing. I also made a good friend at Little, Brown.

Moderator: That is a very touching story, Teri. Are there times when a person is just too tired, too sick, too overwhelmed with family obligations to do any really "hard" writing? What can a writer do during those periods to "regroup" and even progress?

Teri: One thing has always worked for me when I couldn't write for some reason, and that was reading. I gained inspiration from reading the work of other writers. I told myself I wanted to write something like what I had read. I wanted to try again.

Moderator: Have you ever been so discouraged that you quit writing for any extensive period of time or considered changing careers?

Teri: Not really. I never wanted to change careers. Sometimes I was forced to take on other jobs because I needed the money, but never did I imagine giving writing up entirely.

GjolboeCreations: I notice quite a diversity in your writing achievements. Have you ever been, or felt, pressured to choose a niche?

Teri: No, I don't think so. The diversity actually helped me. If one market ran dry for a time, then I had other options where I had a track record.

Granny J: Are you working on any books now?

Teri: I'm working on a book now, but I never, ever talk about what I'm writing. I feel I will talk the idea away. Do you know what I mean?

Moderator: Yes! I'm the same way. Teri, what if family members and others don't support your desire to write or regard your writing as a "hobby" that you can skip if they want you to do something else?

Teri: That's happened. But one thing has helped me. And that is not really sharing my unpublished writing with anyone but professionals. You can set yourself up for some disasters. People who know you won't understand what a writer thinks and feels, or whether material is good or bad. I keep it to myself until something is published. Then the work speaks for itself.

Moderator: Teri, why is it any different for writers to keep going when life gets tough? Don't all professions have rough times?

Teri: That's true. But writers are "creative" people. Where people in business can follow a schedule of "things to be done", writers have to have their minds free for inspiration. Your characters become real to you. They talk to you. They sneak up on you no matter where you are, if your mind is free to work with them in their other world. You really can't do that if you are going through difficult emotional times when you have lost a loved one, or if someone in the family is in trouble.

Moderator: Do you have tricks for being patient when editors take forever to respond to submissions? Or does being patient just encourage editors to take even longer?

Teri: Absolutely. I have tricks for being patient with editors. You never know what might be going on in publishing houses, how things change for the editors, how there can be a shake up or the company is bought by another publisher. Editors have their problems too. Always have a project waiting in the wings and while you are waiting, start the new project. It's foolish to put all your eggs in one basket. This is a good reason to be versatile.

Moderator: How do you take care of your spirit and mind so you can remain creative?

Teri: I'm not sure I have the answer to that for everyone, but I always love to walk, as long as the weather permits. I live beside the sea. There is nothing like the sound of the sea to help you relax and feel refreshed. After concentrating on writing for several hours, you need a sure way to relax. One of my friends swears by practicing yoga. You have to find the activity that helps you and practice it regularly.

Moderator: What can you do when you feel as if everyone else is successful except yourself?

Teri: If you have a dream, a dream like becoming a successful writer, I think you should tell yourself you will never give up that dream. I have a friend who once said to me, "There is always going to be someone prettier, smarter, more popular and more successful than you are." That's true, you know. So you have to carve out your little niche in the world and be proud of it. Never forget that there is also someone who envies what you have.

Moderator: Do you think a journal would help? People who have read and studied The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron say it helps to journal every day. What if you don't have time for that?

Teri: I have never kept a diary and I have never kept a serious notebook except to jot down ideas that I'm afraid I'll overlook and lose. So I don't have experience with that, but I know plenty of people who do. Phyllis Whitney for one. I think her mysteries are so carefully built because she does record everything in a notebook. All her plans. All her thoughts and ideas. For some writers the journal is a gold mine.

Moderator: What about other types of practice writing? Diary stuff? Exercises?

Teri: When you mention practice writing, that's what I call the writing I do when I'm forcing myself to write when I think I have nothing to say. Still, I'm writing and that's what counts. Most of this I throw away, but I learn from that too. You learn the difference between what is powerful, satisfying writing and what is not. If you do journaling, I think this can be an excellent way to keep yourself writing regularly.

Moderator: Is it ever appropriate to just quit and give up writing?

Teri: Probably. I do not now keep anywhere near to the schedule I had a few years ago, but I'll probably never stop writing entirely. It's my life. I love it.

Moderator: How do you know if and when the time is right to quit? What are some signs?

Teri: I think it has to do with your strength and what you "can" still make yourself do as you get older. Only you know if you are trying to do too much. Stamina is the key. But then I think of a book I read over and over again. It's called AND LADIES OF THE CLUB by Helen Santameyer. I believe she was in her nineties and in a nursing home when she wrote that book. What a gem! What if she had given up?

Moderator: Any encouragement to offer those who feel writing is more work that it's worth?

Teri: Picture this. I wrote my second book, the picture book, THE TRUE BOOK OF INDIANS. I went to New York City as I did regularly to shows in those days. I visited a department store on Fifth Avenue and right next door was a Doubleday Book shop. And what display did I see in one of those windows? A display of my book, many copies of it taking up the entire window. Fifth Avenue? Me? My book! So, you ask if it was worth all the trouble of researching and writing and getting rejected? You bet. And so were all the other times that I've found people reading my books in schools, in libraries and once on an airplane trip to Europe. I love to feel I'm reaching other people that way.

Moderator: What has been your biggest personal challenge in all your years of writing, and how did you overcome it and keep writing?

Teri: I lost my editor at Popular Library. She got a terrific job with another publisher as vice president. Great for her. Not great for me. I could have gone with her and written for her new publisher, but my agent advised against it. She didn't think the books published by that publisher would give me room to grow and change. I have to admit that I was terribly upset, but I did what the agent advised and didn't go with my editor. Then, at practically the same time, my agent retired! So no editor and no agent! But--there's always a but--I eventually made friends with another editor and I eventually worked with another agent who was funny, energetic and encouraging. She once had me working on three contracts practically at once. Things finally were back to normal for me.

Moderator: Were there ever long periods of time when you didn't write at all, even though you meant to get back to it as soon as your life permitted?

Teri: Yes, there have been long periods like that. But not often. There was always something that would set me off imagining characters again. Those new characters started following me around, looking for my attention and I'd be back writing again.

janp: Do you ever have difficulty distancing yourself from your characters at the end of a writing session?

Teri: Oh, yes. They stay with me. And that's a good thing. You don't want to lose them.

Moderator: Do you now (or did you ever) make New Year's Resolutions about your writing?

Teri: Oh, yes, and I think it was the same resolution every year. It went like this. NEVER GIVE UP YOUR DREAM: Don't give up writing regularly. Restart your writer's imagination by reading the kinds of materials you want to write. Escape the doldrums by taking a long walk and planning what you want to write. Always start the day by telling yourself you WILL succeed. Make the dream come true by never giving up.

Moderator: Love the acrostic! What can we do NOW to make sure our writing gets off to a solid start in the new year?

Teri: l. Don't put off tomorrow what you can do today. 2. If you start your New Year's Resolution earlier than January l, you're more likely to stick with it for the long haul. 3. Setting a goal for yourself before the New Year actually will put less pressure on you than waiting. 4. Think of starting early as a practice run, so when the New Year rolls around you'll be ready. 5. When you start your New year's Resolution early, it will give you time to make sure the goals you set are attainable or allow room for adjustments where needed. 6. If others see you working hard towards your resolution, they will also get on the bandwagon and start theirs early as well. 7. December is one of the easiest months in the year to throw the towel in and get off track, so getting ahead of the game will keep you on target. 8. With so many different holidays celebrated in the last month of the year, this would be a good time to give the gift of commitment to yourself. 9. Challenging yourself during the holiday season will give you a greater sense of accomplishment than if you wait until after the New Year and don't receive the results you're looking for. 10. The sooner you start something, the sooner you finish!

Moderator: Wow! Excellent! Do you have some final "words of wisdom" for the new year for our viewers, Teri?

Teri: Love what you do. And keep doing it. Write.

Moderator: That's it in a nutshell! I'm sorry to have to interrupt here, but we're out of time. Teri, thank you so much for coming tonight and giving us a New Year's pep talk! We ALL need this from time to time, and this will help us all be able to hit the new year writing. We appreciate your time.

Teri: Thanks, Kristi. It was a pleasure.

Moderator: In two weeks, on December 27, there will be NO INTERVIEW due to the holiday week. Enjoy your family and friends and food! Then return here two weeks after that on January l0 for the first interview of 2002! And now, good night, everyone!

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